Research finds the COVID-19 pandemic – and the business closures, layoffs and health fears it caused – has led to heightened levels of stress. As one way to manage it, local CBD shop owners say they are seeing an influx of customers.
“I’ve seen a higher percentage of people looking for stress relief and anxiety reduction than pain,” said Hemporium co-owner Greg Lee. “Before COVID, it would be maybe half and half anxiety and pain, and now I may be seeing two-thirds saying, ‘I just need to chill.’”
Co-owner Rachel Lee said Hemporium customers have a wide array of stressors. Some are moms or dads who have become teachers amid virtual schooling, some are unemployed and many have anxiety over wearing face masks.
This summer, a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found more than half of U.S. adults say worry and stress related to coronavirus has led to a negative impact on their mental health, up nearly 15 percentage points since late spring.
“The anxiety, I believe, is possibly the worst it’s ever been in our lifetime,” said Canna Bliss LLC owner Jamie Tillman.
When Tillman opened in 2018, she said most of her customers were ages 50 and older and seeking relief from pain.
“Now, probably 60% of the customers we treat have anxiety and depression issues,” she said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved one CBD product, a prescription drug used to treat severe forms of epilepsy. But FDA research is ongoing. All 50 states have legalized CBD usage with varying degrees of restriction, and research points to its effectiveness to treat anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain, according to a paper from Harvard Health Publishing.
Preliminary research from the FDA warns CBD products can cause liver injury, lead to bad interactions with prescribed medication and impact fertility. The FDA on its website also has a lengthy list of unknown interactions and side effects it is researching.
Loehr Health Center owner and CEO Dr. Steven Loehr said he’s sold CBD at his chiropractic and health clinic for three years.
“We’ve seen the immediate results from reducing anxiety, stress and pain,” Loehr said.
The relief is related to the body’s endocannabinoid system, which he said affects pain, hormones, memory and stress. The system is present in everyone regardless of their use of cannabis, but naturally producing endocannabinoids or cannabis products target receptors throughout the body to, for example, relieve nerve pain or reduce inflammation.
While CBD product sales make up only 1% of Loehr Health Center’s overall revenue, Loehr said usage has heightened in 2020.
“I can’t even estimate how much worse it is as far as stress and anxiety and tension, headaches,” he said. “Everyone felt the effect of this.
“I have people that I thought would never try anything CBD or hemp, and those people are the first ones asking for it because the research is showing all the results.”
Loehr added that he primarily sells CBD isolate, which does not contain THC, from vendors like Elder Farms and Bloom Farms CBD. He said since the FDA does not regulate the product, he’s done his own research and independent testing to verify the potency and ingredient list of the products he sells.
Same goes for the Hemporium owners. Rachel Lee said a third-party laboratory tests all products, and it only contracts with a handful of vendors.
To help relieve stress and anxiety in customers, she said the store carries products that pair with other natural substances like menthol, melatonin, essential oils and herbal teas. And the delivery system also affects how a product addresses a customer’s symptoms.
“It all comes down to speed of onset on the product. If you came up to me and said, ‘I get panic attacks, what do you have for me?’ If we were looking at gummies or capsules, that takes two hours for the onset of effects, that is probably not going to solve the issue,” Greg Lee said. “Something inhalable like smoking or vaping can work like a rescue inhaler for panic attacks.”
He added if people have stress they want to manage all day, one dose of a gummy or capsule can take the edge off.
Chris Bunch, manager of CBD of Springfield, which sells its own CBD Hempdropz line, said education is critical with customers, especially as more people are using the product to treat stress.
She recommends water-soluble CBD products as a good option for quick stress relief.
“We teach them about the plant and what the plant can do and to not just listen to us. Do their research and talk to their doctors and their pharmacist,” Bunch said.
Tillman said she’s eager for the FDA to release guidance on CBD products, as she’s heard horror stories about people using products that are misleading.
“There are bad companies out there that are taking advantage of the situation and the market,” she said. “It’s bad enough that about 80% of CBD products don’t actually test out at what milligram they state it is supposed to be, but even scarier that some of them can literally make customers sick.”
The reported influx of customers could not make up for the impact of mandated closures due to the pandemic. CBD shops were deemed nonessential in Springfield.
Tillman said her revenue will be down roughly 15% this year.
“We were down for six weeks. I fought the city a lot on it because I am passionate about my customers, my patients, who have cancer, anxiety, which was running rampant at that point, and seizures,” she said. “Luckily, we were still able to mail our orders.”
Existing customers used Canna Bliss’ online shopping, but the biggest impact came to the Cannabis Resource Center, which opened in June. The space is intended to offer cooking and cannabis education classes.
“Because of occupancy restrictions, that’s put a hurt on the business,” she said.
Rachel Lee said Hemporium will be down $50,000-$60,000 in sales compared with last year.
“We opened maybe 50% of where we were and have been clawing back every month since then,” Greg Lee said. “Consumer walk-ins have been steadily increasing.”
Yet another potential blow to CBD shops is days away, as medical marijuana is reported to soon hit shelves locally.
“I think in the beginning it is going to drastically affect CBD sales. Customers are excited about using their cards,” Tillman said. “People are going to realize they are not going to be able to work and be functional on a THC product and after that happens, I think a lot of people will come back to CBD for a daytime pain and stress relief.”
Tillman said she was devastated to be denied a medical marijuana dispensary license in January. But she thinks there will always be a market for CBD, especially for those whose jobs prohibit the use of THC.
Lee said he also expects to see some impact from medical marijuana sales.
“Call us again in six months,” he said, laughing.
“Our products go great with it,” he said. “You don’t want to smoke a medical marijuana joint and go to work. But CBD can provide a lot of the same benefits but without the psychoactivity to remain productive.”
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